A Conversation with DL coach Mike Waufle

Heading into this season, one of the positions under the most scrutiny was the Giants defensive line. Michael Strahan was attempting to come back from an injury, promising Osi Umenyiora had yet to consistently put it all together, and the DTs were questionable at best, with newcomer Kendrick Clancy and disappointing former first-round pick William Joseph earning the starting spots.

Four weeks into the season, things look much more positive on the D-line. During the bye week, Mike Waufle took a few Tom Coughlin-permitted minutes out of his busy schedule and sat down with TGI. Here's what he had to say.

Q: How fortunate are you to be able to coach a guy like Michael Strahan?

A: It's great. Michael has been playing back at Michael Strahan's capabilities. He's very consistent at this point. He's been able to put pressure on the quarterback and he's also been playing the run very well. He's been playing with a lot of energy and playing healthy.

Q: When a guy is that good, can you actually learn from him?

A: Oh yeah, no question, all the time. We work together hand in hand. We feed off each other. I always give him the opportunity to speak in our meetings. If he sees something, it's an open window for him to add his experience.

Q: How much does Strahan's presence help the other linemen?

A: That's a big part of it. When I was with the Oakland Raiders, if you asked those guys who I showed them the most film of they'd tell you it was Michael Strahan. I learned a lot from Michael prior to coming here and built up a library of film. I really feel honored to coach him.

Q: How much has Osi progressed and how much does he need to still learn?

A: He has made strides, but he still has to improve. He's still young yet, and he has a ways to go. He's making strides, but we have to make faster strides in this business. He has to come along quicker.

Q: Have you been pleased with the DT rotation?

A: Yes, I've been pleased with it. William Joseph is coming along at the pace I'd like to see him come along. He has to have more consistency in his game. I see (Kendrick) Clancy has been a good fit for us at the nose tackle position, him and Kenderick Allen. They rotate in there and make us solid. And then Fred Robbins has been able to help us with the pass rush inside, so it's a good blend.

Q: Is that the ideal spot for Robbins, coming in on passing downs?

A: He can play it all, but he's been a good fit for us, having his ability inside. We have a good rotation. We have four tackles that can pretty much play anywhere in there. It's a good, solid group.

Q: Has the D-line been better than you expected? Are you pleased so far?

A: No, I'd have to say no. I really don't think so. I don't think you're ever satisfied, not at all. I want to see them be more consistent in everything. They need to be more consistent in the rush, more consistent in stopping the run. We look very good at times. You can put some film together and say, ‘wow, they're pretty darn good.' Then you could put some other film together and say, ‘wow, we've got a ways to go.' We're working at it.

Q: All the early leads this year, how much does that change how you can coach the D-line?

A: The good thing about our offense so far is that they're keeping us off the field and giving us rest. It was a good idea keeping the Rams offense off the field, because they're explosive and very good. That's been good for us. Especially for our defensive line, it gives us a chance to make corrections on the sideline and communicate and get your energy back.

Q: Does that allow you to play a little more aggressively?

A: Oh yeah, we want them to play aggressively every down, but yes, I would say so.

Q: How comfortable are you coaching in your second year as opposed to last year?

A: Learning Tim's system and understanding Tim's system has gotten easier. We're growing in it. It's a very good system. That's actually part of the reason I wanted to come here. I really had a lot of respect for him and what he did with the Steelers. So yeah, I feel more comfortable with it.

Q: How is it coaching under Tom Coughlin?

A: I have a lot of respect for Coach Coughlin. He has his ways of doing things. I was a marine so none of that stuff fazes me. It might faze some other people, but not me. I respect it.

Q: Let's talk about some of your younger guys. How has Justin Tuck looked to you?

A: He's much farther ahead than some rookies in this league. He's making strides, but he'll still make his rookie errors in practice so that you have to jump him a little extra hard. He's already made some plays that were impressive. He just has to become more consistent.

Q: What stands out about him?

A: He's smart. I think he'll eventually become a good run defender. He has some pass rush abilities. That's how Michael developed into that complete player. That's what you want, a guy that's not just a specialist. I think Justin has the ability to play both.

Q: In your eyes, is he more of a right end or a left end?

A: The great thing is that he played both sides at Notre Dame and he's doing it now here. That's great for him. I don't really think it's possible to predict that yet. It's pretty much wherever he falls into and ends up. It's still early yet.

Q: How good can Eric Moore be?

A: It was unfortunate that Eric got hurt because when he first started out in camp he was the best end at one point. He was a real explosive individual. He's coming off that injury, and his role has changed because of the injury. He's going to have to grow and have opportunities to be able to grow. But it's exciting to see some of the things that he could do at one point. There's going to be something out of him as a player.

Q: What stands out to you about Eric?

A: Well when we went down to Florida State to work him out you could see his explosiveness. Not everybody has that. That's a gift. I think we can work with that and play it as a strength with him.

Q: And rookie free agent Adrian Awasom?

A: I was pleasantly surprised with Adrian Awasom. Adrian has some pass rush ability. He's a smart, conscientious player. To come into the NFL and make a roster as a rookie free agent is a great accomplishment. It's a good group of rookies to work with and develop. We'll just see where they end up.

Q: Do you see the confidence in this team building?

A: What I really see is it being a team. We're coming together as a team. I was with some great teams out with the Raiders and I can see there are a lot of similarities. Guys are coming together, playing together and they're believing in coach Coughlin and coach (John) Hufnagel and coach Lewis. They're all buying in. Everybody's on the same page and that's what it's all about.

Q: How closely do you have to work with the LBs and coach (Bill) Sheridan?

A: Oh, very close. Very close. We have to be able to have our run fits, be able to execute properly, defend the run, take care of our gaps. It's like science. The offense does a lot of things – motion, shifting, etc. – they try to get you off-balance a little bit and try to trick you. You have to be on top of your game. It's great having a guy like Antonio Pierce behind us. He's an excellent linebacker and it excites me to have him back there. I really like our whole group of linebackers. It's a good group and a good mesh with our defensive line.

Q: You're a New York guy. How special is it to be able to coach for the Giants?

A: I'm from New York so it's kind of fun being back home again. We're from the southern tier, about a couple hours east of Binghamton. Hornell, New York. When I was a kid I think the first game I ever saw was the '58 championship. The Giants were the only games we got back then. We had the Giants on all the time. So it was really exciting for me to come here. It was really my first opportunity in my coaching career to come home. I love the New York Giants and I always had a goal to coach here. I look back on my goals that I wrote down way back in the ‘80s and the New York Giants was one place that I wanted to coach.

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